4 Different Ways Brands Can Utilize Connected Packaging

They’re the best way to spice up old-school styles

A pile of bars of soaps and someone holding a phone up in front of them.
Changing what a brand's packaging looks like can really help entice consumers. Illustration: Trent Joaquin; Sources: Unsplash
Headshot of Matt Kates

When someone says owned media, the first thoughts that probably come to mind are a brand’s website, CRM database, social channels and mobile app. With all the excitement around big data and digital marketing platforms, we often forget about one of the oldest and most impactful forms of owned media: product packaging.

Packaging is arguably a brand’s most important consumer touchpoint for a variety of reasons, such as it being the last selling opportunity at the point of purchase, consumers spending more time with it than any other form of brand communication, and perhaps most obviously, product packaging being highly targeted.

Now consider the power of connected packaging. Brands have the ability to transform a soft drink bottle, a diaper box or a candy wrapper into a rich, interactive experience capable of achieving a range of marketing objectives by transforming a physical product into a digital engagement.

With all the benefits that connected packaging offers, it’s important to consider how the various options provide value against marketing objectives and required investment levels. From early forms such as unique codes and QR codes to newer technologies like Snapcodes and NFC, let’s review four ways brands are turning old-school packaging into highly engaging owned media.

Unique codes

One of the oldest forms of connected packaging is still one of the best options for brands that want to provide consumers an incentive tied to purchase, without the need for a POS integration. These one-time use unique codes boast the highest acceptance rate across all age demographics and can provide valuable purchase insights such as product type, location and retailer.

While some brands use unique codes as a requirement to participate in contests, they’re most often used to offer consumers a guaranteed monetary incentive in exchange for purchase such as rebates and purchase premiums because of the incremental manufacturing cost of applying a unique code on each package.

To minimize the purchase fraud risk, algorithms should be used to generate secure, non-sequential alphanumeric codes (i.e., fraudsters can’t randomly guess them) that are placed on the inside of packaging to enable access only after purchase. UPC codes should never be considered a substitute for unique codes. Since UPC codes are uniform, multi-use codes that are applied to the outside of packages, there is a substantial risk of fraud.

Quick response (QR) codes

While they didn’t gain traction as fast as marketers hoped when they first came onto the scene 10-plus years ago, QR codes have been making a comeback. Now that most smartphones have QR readers built into the phone’s camera app, consumers can simply point their camera at the code to unlock the experience.

Since QR codes are non-unique images that can easily be shared through social networks, they’re not a secure solution to reward purchase. Instead, consider them as purchase motivators or to enhance the product or brand experience after purchase.

QR codes provide consumers with easy, one-click access to unlock experiences (contests, VR, videos, mobile games), they also enable brands to deliver value-added content like enhanced nutritionals, clean product information and customer reviews. Best of all for marketers, QR codes can turn anonymous shoppers into ongoing relationships via email opt-ins, social follows, app downloads and more.


Most millennial consumers are familiar with SnapChat’s cooler version of QR codes. To activate a Snapcode, you simply open Snapchat, point your camera at the Snapcode and press and hold the Snapcode on your screen to scan it.

Snapchat’s rich functionality makes it popular with younger consumers, with features like filters and drawing tools that enable users to create some of the most viewed UGC. That’s one reason brands often leverage Snapcodes as a way to tap into this highly engaged audience, incentivizing millennial consumers to use the platform’s tools to become brand advocates.

Snapcodes are a great connected packaging option for brands with younger skewing consumers. While 78% of 18–24-year-olds use Snapchat regularly, Snapchat only reaches 11% of the total U.S. digital population. If your target demographic skews middle-aged to older adults, Snapcodes may not be right for your business.

Near field communication (NFC)

NFC is one of the most intriguing new connected packaging options because it offers such a frictionless process. Most commonly used as the technology behind mobile payments, NFC allows consumers to simply tap their smartphone to the product packaging to launch the experience. No need to download an app, snap a photo or scan an image.

NFC tags are the most expensive form of connected packaging, so they’re best used for marketing strategies that extend beyond one and done actions. The incremental cost does come with advantages, however, because NFC provides brands with opportunities to create experiences that can extend across the consumer lifecycle. Marketers can deliver dynamic, real-time experiences based on more than what a consumer buys but also on how they interact with the product—such as smartphone tap sequence, time of day, geographic location and other criteria—resulting in greater insight for brands and more relevant consumer engagements.

As a newer marketing technology, NFC is accessible to a majority of consumers, but it hasn’t been universally adopted yet. While NFC technology has been a feature in Android devices for years, Apple has only recently begun building NFC capability into its latest iPhones. This means only 60%–65% of consumers have NFC-enabled smartphones, so any brands using NFC-enabled packaging should consider providing an alternate means of consumer participation.

@prizelogic Matt Kates is CMO at PrizeLogic.
Publish date: September 4, 2019 https://stage.adweek.com/brand-marketing/4-different-ways-brands-can-utilize-connected-packaging/ © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT